Monday, 28 November 2016

Enchanted Review

Season: New Year 2008.

Genre Part-Animated/Family/Fantasy/Comedy.

Starring: Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, Idina Menzal, Timothy Spall, James Marsden and Susan Sarandon.

Running Time/Duration: 107 Mins. Approx.

Certificate: PG: (Contains mildly scary scenes and brief innuendo).

Seen at: Parrs Wood Cinemas, Didsbury.

On: Sunday, January 20th, 2008.
When I was ten, I was taken to see 102 Dalmatians. It was brilliant – even more colourful, inventive, action-packed and funny than the original. Now its director, Kevin Lima (also the brains behind Tarzan) reinvents a mixture of classic Disney fairy-tales with a refreshing, modern twist, and a zingy combination of traditional animation and live-action. (The method is at its most charming when the two mediums are purposely intermixed together).
  No sooner has the viewer let the spellbinding tones of ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’  wash over them, are they whizzed through the very window of the Walt Disney Castle Logo itself, to see that Princess Giselle, played by Junebug Oscar Nominee Amy Adams, is plunged into a traditionally-animated wishing well and thrown into our live-action New York.
Adams exaggerates every little eye-flickering gesture – it is an expertly judged performance.
 Although the fairytale side of her is all set to wed her dashing but annoyingly stereotypically clich├ęd Prince Charming (played by X-Men’s James Marsden), predictably, she just can’t help falling for reluctant but charming divorce lawyer Robert (cue an appropriately understated performance from Grey’s Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey.
However, all this is further complicated by Susan Sarandon’s wonderfully vicious Queen Narcissa who’ll stop at nothing to ensure that Princess Giselle doesn’t take over her crown (just a shame she isn’t granted quite enough screen time, even though she totally steals the show).
  This is an endlessly inventive, refreshing piece of popcorn fodder, with gags suiting all ages, brimming to the very tip-top of the melting pot with poison apples happy endings, and – oh, purple dragons?! (Jon McLaughlin’s song: ‘So Close’ during the ballroom dance scene is very touching, and has deservedly been nominated at this year’s Oscars – as have two other musical numbers).
  Many a dedicated Disney fan will revel in noticing parodies and in-jokes from most prominently Snow White, (such as the opening storybook shots and the rendition of ‘The Happy Working Song’  but also Cinderella, and even more recent successes like Shrek.
But what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in spades with shimmering costume, parades, songs, and a certain magical sparkle you can only truly obtain, from Walt Disney Pictures…!

Rating: ****

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Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Lay The Favourite Review


Summer 2012

Starring: Bruce Willis, Rebecca Hall, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joshua Jackson and Vince Vaughn.

Running Time: 94 mins.

Seen At: Didsbury.

On:  Sunday 24th June, 2012.

The international box-office at the moment is an interesting state of affairs. The horror genre seems to be on fright-fest overload, what with The Pact, Red Lights, The Chernobyl Diaries and of course Prometheus.
  Director Stephen Frears is for my money one of the most versatile in the industry – he’s taken us through much classical period intrigue and the obsessions of a steamily seductive love triangle in Dangerous Liaisons, down into the consumerist greed of The Grifters, post-modern quirk - again with John Cusack - in Nick Hornby’s High Fedelity, transatlantic cautions of a distinctly darker sort in the highly affecting Dirty Pretty Things,  a somber reflection as a nation mourns in Helen Mirren’s Oscar-laden portrayal of a modern monarch with 2006’s The Queen, and in 2010 – one of those ‘feel-good’ chocolate-box village hits, with a heady mix of writing, baking, sun, wine and…oh, the odd dollop of unfaithfulness thrown in for good measure – in the charming Moira Buffini screenplay - Tamara Drewe.
  Now, he sticks with his model, with the figure of the deceptively ditzy heroine as his central protagonist, this time in the rather irritating shape of Beth (played by Rebecca Hall), a clumsy, whiney-voiced late-twenties-something backpacker, in a familiarly short pair of denims, who initially appears to be a dumb brunette at the most fundamentally cardboard-template-level. Didn’t Frears use exactly the same character arc for Gemma Arterton’s redeemed Tamera in 2010’s lovingly-crafted Tamera Drewe? Also, she can curiously, simultaneously solve anagrammatic puzzles off car registrations.
 She decides to exchange the murky world of seedy stripping in which the film opens – in really quite a strikingly comic, yet verging on edgy fashion, presumably attempting to act as an algorithm for the cautions of the excesses of money, alcohol and more – for the bright lights of…oh – Vegas? Surely every trap Beth is inexplicably running from also exists there – only in far higher, more exploitative quantities – they’re just advertised as glossed-over with a shameless, neon-lit sheen? Once there, she inevitably meets up with professional gambler Dink (Bruce Willis), who’s in the business of placing bets for a living, also known as ‘laying the favourite’. What ensues is at best, quite uninvolving, with little more than everybody grappling with corded phones, in the midst of heated arguments.
Rebecca Hall, a true British gem of an actress, makes really interesting choices. She gave my favourite performance in Woody Allen’s very charming and original Oscar-winner Vicky Christina Barcelona, showcasing a real talent for comic timing. She’s played fine dramatic turns in Christopher Nolan’s superb magician thriller The Prestige, as well as political electrifier Frost/Nixon. (She’s also to be seen in BBC Two’s adaptation of Parade’s End this Friday).
Here though, her talents are completely wasted on a deceptively sunny screenplay, weak dialogue, and an unengaging, flimsy, one-note character, similarly to Willis, another usually highly charismatic screen-presence given rather flat material to work with.
  The saviors are with two supporting roles: Catherine Zeta-Jones, one of my most favourite actresses (looking ultra-glamorous as ever), makes a triumphant return to the big screen as Dink’s high-maintenance, red-haired wife Tulip, giving her the chance to relish in reprising those frosty, gold-digger roles she delivers so perfectly.
Just think of Gwen, the spoilt, demanding, fading A-Lister – one half of America’s Sweethearts, man-eating Marilyn in Intolerable Cruelty, or the gorgeous seductress Velma Kelly in her Oscar-winning turn in Chicago. She’s at her very best playing these roles of the icy, yet extremely attractive women in the ruthlessly determined mould. Here, she’s also not afraid to be at the centre of one of the film’s very funniest moments, as Tulip resorts to going under the knife with some plastic surgery. We witness her directly after the procedure - before the reveal of the usually ‘perfect’ transformation – complete with her face wrapped in bandages!
  The other, equally entertaining role, arrives in the always skillfully funny shape of Vince Vaughn, an incredibly gifted comic actor, as shady money-launderer Rosie. Vaughn employs his customary, quick-fire delivery of dialogue, and much of the comedy in his scenes, as well as the film as a whole, arises from the camaraderie between him and his colleagues. A particular example is when he insists to Beth, convinced they are about to be found out, that they’re: ‘too cautious’  when he’s clearly anything but!
  What may add marginally more credibility to the film, is the fact that it is, partially, based on true events. It’s adapted from the memoir of the real-life Beth Raymer, and Dink and Tulip (no matter how closely or not they are portrayed in the film), are people who actually exist.
  Stylistically, it appeals to me that the film is shot in a bright, honey-glow glossiness, and even though it’s predominantly only mildly funny apart from a few stand-out moments, it has great supporting turns from Zeta-Jones and Vaughn. It’s light, bright, colourful, enjoyably energetic fare, and a refreshing change from that darker, heavier, far more serious output of films I mentioned, that can sometimes dominate the box-office.

Rating: * * * 

Moonrise Kingdom Review

Summer 2012

Indie Comedy.

Starring: Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Jared Gilman, Kara Haywood, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban and Harvey Keitel.

Certificate: 12A. 

Running Time: 94 mins. approx.

Seen At: Didsbury.

On: Thursday, 7th June, 2012.

It’s a real auteur’s year at this year’s Cannes, with a diverse and wide-ranging programme of films from a selection of very high profile filmmakers, including David Cronenberg, (Cosmopolis) Micheal Hanake, and Ken Loach, (The Angel’s Share) – as well as an adaptation of the literary classic On The Road by Jack Kerouac.
  The film which opened this year’s festival, is Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson’s quirky latest. I thoroughly enjoyed his 1998 breakout movie Rushmore, and of course I was utterly charmed, marveling at the meticulously detailed sets in his delightful, stop-motion animated take on Fantastic Mr. Fox in 2009.
  With this newest project, I’m most happy to comment that his unique eye for the smallest perfectionist intricacies, is a trait that is very much included here, along with several other Anderson-esque trademarks. These can be the camera often being positioned ever so slightly low-angle (to make the adults appear more authoritative over the children, when the reality is most likely exactly the opposite), the occasional ‘swish’ of a whip-pan, shots that are frequently static - a refreshing style of cinematography whereby the camera really doesn’t move all that much – and of course, a real flair for choosing the appropriate soundtrack to accompany the utterly unique and always artful visuals.
  Here for example, the film (set on the island of New Penzance in 1965), opens with the epic fugue of Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra, as we’re introduced to the house and family of Kara Haywood’s Susie Bishop, an intelligent but unfulfilled teenage girl. Desperate to break free from the monotony, she’s secretly planning to elope with a young orphaned boy named Sam McKlusky, (Jared Gilman), who attends a scouting camp run by it’s leader, Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton).
When the pair of youngsters do indeed go missing, (‘Jiminy Cricket he flew the coop’, remarks Ward, incredulously), it’s up to Bruce Willis’s bespectacled Deputy Sharp to head up a search party, but an austere administrator cloaked in navy blue, known elusively only as Social Services, stands in their way…
  It’s quirky, kooky and often quietly funny, particularly the moment when Bill Murray as Walt, Suzy’s embittered father, tears down the wooden tent the two have built together.
   The screenplay’s dialogue often dazzles with a knowing sense for fizzy comedy. As the leader of the agency flies over a lightening-stricken rainstorm, her pilot announces: ‘Hang in there Social Services!’. Or when Walt’s wife Laura (movingly played by a subtle Frances McDormand), asks through a megaphone: ‘Does it concern you that your daughter’s just run away from home?’ he calmly replies: ‘That’s a loaded question’.
  The setup, is to take a starry, big-name cast, in an ensemble piece, each playing the role of idiosyncratic, oddball characters.
   It’s for these reasons mainly, that the film this is most reminiscent of, is The Coen Bros. outstanding 2008 comedy Burn After Reading, my favourite Coen Bros. movie. Incidentally, both movies star Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton. They’re also both fast-paced, economically edited and employ all the precision-skill of expert directors.
 The performances here, are all fantastic - from the adult supporting cast to the two young leads.
   The always exceptional Tilda Swinton is especially superb, stealing the show as the hilariously imposing Social Services, while Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are also brilliant. Schwartzman appears as the Scout Chaplin in sunglasses!
   Bruce Willis certainly looks very different compared to in the eighties action blockbusters that he’s associated with, and Edward Norton brings a very likable quality to Scoutmaster Ward, which makes him the character that the audience will empathize with and relate to the most. Bob Balaban’s narrator more than slightly resembles a little, knowledgeable garden gnome in his red overcoat and bottle-green bobble-hat!
It’s also great to see Harvey Keitel, who also has a brief role. It’s a movie jam-packed full of stars, each of whom play their roles perfectly.
  Remember to stay throughout the closing credits when Jared Gilman breaks down the role of each instrument used in Britten’s Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra. This is a lovely, light, final touch in a film that’s refreshing, niche, often wonderfully amusing and a delight to watch. Expect it to triumph at awards season next year!

Rating: * * * * 

Monday, 21 November 2016

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them Review

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them - 12A, 133 Mins.

As the initial bars of John Williams’s iconic theme flutter past the giant, silvery, fast-approaching Warner Bros. logo, devotees and novices alike are encapsulated within the ominous, icy glow of magical mystery. It doesn’t feature Harry himself, or any of the previous characters - Dumbledore is simply alluded to, but there are so many clever little intertwining references to the Potter diegesis.
Instead, there are a colourful gaggle of new additions. Sadly, a simpering Eddie Redmayne is miscast (again), in a terribly thankless cookie-cutter of a lead role, as Newt Scamander, the personification of bumbling ineptitude.
 Newcomer Alison Sudol is far more impressive as Queenie Goldstein, a pink-clad minx with a heart of candy. But this central quartet of waxy heroes are so depth-less, with no back-story whatsoever. For a film with so many stunning visual set-pieces, it has the conflicting dichotomy of very little happening narratologically.
  Infinitely more gripping, is the fantastic new clutch of villainy, lead by a brilliant, gravelly-voiced Colin Farrell, completely stealing the show as the aptly named Percival Graves. Samantha Morton, Jon Voight and especially Ezra Miller (all unnervingly scary) delve into even darker territory as Salem-based witch-hunters - in a daringly topical socio-political sub-plot, tackling lobotomy and discriminatory segregation.
 James Newton-Howard adds perpetually thrumming pathos, in a terrific score that’s by turns playful and threatening. Stuart Craig’s sets, Colleen Atwood’s costumes and Philippe Rousselot’s outstandingly glossy cinematography are even further complemented by truly exceptional 3D visual effects. Everything from lollipops, to instantaneous apple-strudle flies at you!
 There are plenty of twists and turns and four more installments on the way, not to mention an awesome surprise cameo from Johnny Depp, sporting a shock of blonde hair - though the less revealed about exactly how he makes his amazing entrance - the better…

Rating: * * * *

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Saturday, 19 November 2016

Nocturnal Animals Review

15, 117 mins, Universal Pictures.

Ultra-stylish, superbly crisp & blisteringly compulsive, fashion-designer turned director Tom Ford, follows up 2009’s A Single Man, with a dizzyingly precise, yet perfectly constructed, meandering, multi-stranded narrative of vengeance, violence & retribution.
  Seamlessly interweaving three separate time-frames, it tells the present story of Susan (Amy Adams; glacially terrific) an extremely privileged but unfulfilled LA gallery owner, who possesses the titular manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal, rarely having been better).
As she begins to read, the plot of the novel becomes the film’s central narrative: a gritty, murderous neo-noir with Texan drawl and terrifyingly unrelenting nihilistic antagonists - led by a terrific Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
Susan also remembers glossily desperate flashbacks of when her and Edward were together.
  These three portions are perfectly juxtaposed against each-other, in Seamus McGarvey’s peerless cinematography. The vacuous, lacquer of the hollow present connoting the futility of excess; the fuzzy, dappled past, and the antithesis, with the abject brutality of the apparent fiction…
  Utterly striking, its Hitchcockian references are fiendishly clever, from motel signs and graphic-matched showers, to Abel Korzeniowski’s evocatively Hermann-esque score. Laura Linney has a terrific, aged-up cameo, in a sublimely sharp, propulsive, heightened cautionary tale that’s black-hearted - and will stick to your psyche.

Rating: * * * * *

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